Using an online broker’s website is still the most common method of accessing the tools and research available to you as an account holder. Mobile apps are increasingly popular, but pointing a browser at YourBroker.com remains a major part of the client experience. Until a few years ago, brokers devoted much of their development efforts to their web clients; now they develop desktop and mobile platforms concurrently, a practice that has made the user experience more similar. The following brokers have the best web-based platforms on the market:
- Fidelity Investments
- Charles Schwab
- TD Ameritrade
- Merrill Edge
There are still advantages to trading on a website, primarily that more tools and research capabilities can easily fit on a page. Fixed income traders, in particular, are not yet well-served via mobile apps. Investors in bonds and CDs will find richer search capabilities on the web and can build bond ladders and estimate their future income.
In addition, complex options traders have better search and analysis tools on brokers’ websites, especially when compared to using a smartphone app. There simply isn’t enough visual space on your iPhone or Galaxy to figure out the risk inherent in a particular 4-legged options trade. And for those with advanced trading strategies that use technical events to trigger a transaction, the mobile tools are limited.
Education offerings are still richer on the web as well. The winners in this category also have terrific mobile apps, but their websites offer a deeper dive into the available research and analysis.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $4.95 per stock/ETF, $4.95 plus $0.65/contract per options trade
Fidelity features one of the best trade-routing engines, which results in lower trade costs for their customers. The goal of their trading technology is to achieve price improvement on customer orders, so that “Buy” orders are executed at a price lower than the market at the moment the trade is placed, and “Sell” orders execute at a higher price. Customers trading quantities over 500 shares can often achieve more price improvement than they pay in commission. Fidelity’s portfolio analysis feature lets you link outside accounts, as well as any cryptocurrency you hold at Coinbase, to give you a picture of your overall financial health.
Education offerings and tax planning are well-integrated, and the site itself is simple to navigate. Their recently redesigned trade ticket reduces the number of clicks needed to place a trade. Fidelity offers a more complex trading site called Trade Armor for those who want to design an exit plan when opening a new position.
The website features screeners for stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, and a variety of fixed income products.
Fidelity also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best for Beginners, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for ETFs, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs and Best for International Trading.
Low commissions tied with excellent education and research
Screeners include social responsibility, and themes such as 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, founder run firms, and more
Banking services offered, including a 2% cash-back credit card and ATM fee rebates
For options traders, a trade ticket has been integrated into the options chain view
Portfolio analysis helps customers understand their exposure to sectors, industries, and geographical regions
Website performed erratically during trading surges in the last year
No futures trading available
Guest access available for 30 days; must deposit funds to maintain access to research, quotes, etc.
Some features are hard to find due to the deep menu structure of the website
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $4.95 per stock and ETF trade, $0 for Schwab ETFs and $4.95 plus $0.65 per contract for options
Schwab customers can take advantage of their ETF OneSource list, which offers over 200 commission-free exchange-traded funds from 16 different fund families. The ETF screener on the website has 9 pre-defined screens, or you can build your own with up to 70 different criteria, including performance, sector, risk measures, and portfolio contents.
There are three web-based sites available: the standard at schwab.com, plus Trade Source, which helps customers generate trading ideas, and StreetSmart Central, which includes advanced options analytics and a live news feed from CNBC. Trade Source’s Strategy Screener lets you choose plain English screens, such as, “Which stocks have been up or down on a higher than normal percentage of the market’s total volume?” Technical analysis from Recognia fuels the screener.
Charles Schwab also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best for International Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Beginners, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, Best for ETFs, and Best Stock Trading Apps.
Options traders can use the terrific risk analytics built by optionsXpress, a brokerage Schwab acquired and integrated into their StreetSmart Edge site
The All-in-One Trade Ticket lets you build a trade for any asset class you are eligible to utilize, including options, futures, and futures options
The Idea Hub lets you look for trading ideas based on market moves, upcoming earnings announcements, premium harvesting and covered calls, plus futures options. You can pick a trading idea, run analytics, and then hit the Trade button and open a position.
There are three web platforms, and you may find yourself switching among them to use all the tools you need
The charting functionality in StreetSmart Central runs on Adobe Flash, which causes problems with some operating systems
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $6.95 for stock and ETF trades, $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 for options
Streaming news and home-grown video is built in to the TD Ameritrade website, along with a wealth of education and product offerings. You can read the chatter about your holdings and watch lists using Social Signals, which pulls information from Twitter and organizes tweets for you. You can customize your web experience using TD Ameritrade’s Dock tool, which lets you include information from other websites such as Yahoo! Finance.
TD Ameritrade also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best for Day Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best for Beginners, Best for ETFs, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs and Best Stock Trading Apps.
Easily defined alerts let you define what kinds of reports you want, and how frequently you want them delivered
Free independent research from a wide variety of sources
A trade ticket is displayed at the bottom of every screen, so you can take quick action on your ideas
A watch list you set up on your web platform will also display on a mobile app
GainsKeeper, a capital gains monitor, is free to use
Higher than average commissions and margin rates
A glut of features across multiple platforms can make it hard to find the tools you want
Complex options (more than two legs) cannot be traded on the web platform
Futures and forex cannot be traded on the web platform
- Account Minimums: $0
- Fees: $6.95 per stock trade. Options trades $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 per contract
Merrill’s website offers a lot of help for setting and attaining financial goals. The Personal Retirement Calculator helps you estimate how much you’ll need to retire, and then builds an action plan to assist with your wealth building. The Portfolio Story feature spells out how your assets are allocated by sector and class, and helps you pinpoint underperforming investments to generate higher returns.
The research features summarize analysts’ opinions of your holdings. You can also check out the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores to see how your investments align with your personal values. The advanced web platform, Merrill Edge MarketPro, features streaming quotes and news along with interactive charting. The MarketPro dashboard is customizable, allowing you to rearrange the tools to suit your needs.
Merrill Edge also received awards for Best for Beginners, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for IRAs, and Best for Roth IRAs.
Lots of help for planning for goals and assessing your progress
Life stage planning gives you specific guidance for your current situation: just starting out, building wealth, nearing retirement, and living in retirement
Extensively integrated with parent Bank of America
Those with high balances with Merrill and/or Bank of America can qualify for commission-free stock and ETF trading
MarketPro access requires either a high balance or frequent trading activity
Frequent prodding to move assets into a managed account, which can cost more
No commission-free ETFs available, though customers with high balances with Merrill and/or Bank of America can qualify for 30-100 free stock/ETF trades monthly
The waived commissions for premium members cannot be used for options trades
- Account Minimum: $500
- Fees: $6.95 stock and ETF trading
E*TRADE’s standard web platform includes streaming real-time quotes, news, charts, and daily market commentary. You’ll find screeners to help you choose stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and bonds based on your criteria. Those new to investing can put together customized courses to learn more about selecting and placing trades, and also attend webinars and live events to step up to more complex strategies.
Options traders can use screeners and optimizers built by professional market makers on the OptionsHouse platform. You can close an equity option priced at $0.10 or less for free with the Dime Buyback Program. Advanced traders can analyze and trade options on futures around the clock.
E*TRADE also received awards for Best for Options Trading, Best for ETFs, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, and Best for Beginners.
The OptionsHouse platform includes videos and calculators to help you learn how – and why – to trade options
The Technical Insights feature on the OptionsHouse platform teaches the new technical analyst how to use these studies
More than 250 ETFs can be traded commission-free
You can get your portfolio up and running quickly with one of E*TRADE’s prebuilt ETF portfolios, all of which use commission-free funds. (Minimum $2,500)
Good tools and flat pricing for bond traders ($1 per bond)
Commissions and margin rates are on the high side unless you are a frequent trader
You may need to switch back and forth between the E*TRADE website and the OptionsHouse platform to take advantage of all the available tools
No forex or international trading available
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